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By Bruce Corker

Kona’s coffee farmers were recently delighted to hear that Slow Food USA enrolled Pure Kona Coffee in its “Ark of Taste” catalog earlier this year. The spotlight generated by this Slow Food designation will encourage and support the continued production, consumption, and preservation of the economic viability of this historic agricultural crop.

Kona Coffee—grown in the districts of North Kona and South Kona on the Island of Hawai’i—is a treasured heritage crop. Coffee has been farmed in Kona since 1828 when the New England missionary, Samuel Ruggles, introduced coffee cultivation near Napo’opo’o in South Kona. Today, more than 180 years later, the “Kona Coffee Belt”—an area extending about 22 miles long and two miles wide between 700’ and 2400’ above sea level—is home to more than 650 coffee farms, with an average size of about 5 acres.

Distinguished by its rich and floral flavor, smooth finish and delicious aroma, Kona Coffee’s outstanding taste characteristics have been recognized for generations. In an 1866 letter to the Sacramento Union, Mark Twain wrote: “Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it what name you please.” Almost 150 years later, noted coffee writer, Kenneth Davids, described the taste of Kona Coffee as “delicate, subtle and sometimes extraordinary.”

The very limited area in which Kona Coffee is grown ensures this crop will not be taken over by industrial agricultural interests. The small, average farm size ensures that Kona’s coffee farmers have an incentive to cultivate coffee in a way that is sustainable and maintains the quality for which Kona Coffee has become known.

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However, the economic viability and future of Kona Coffee is at serious risk from deceptive labeling practices occurring in the State of Hawaii and on the US Mainland. Each year, millions of pounds of “Kona Blends” (most of which are 90% foreign-grown commodity coffee of undisclosed origin) are sold to consumers. As a result, the market is flooded with packages which consumers are misled into believing are “Kona Coffee” –but which are not. Kona’s coffee farmers lose millions of dollars each year because of misleadingly labeled “Kona Blends”. The labeling on the US Mainland is even more damaging, with little or no genuine content in many packages displaying the “Kona” name. The risk is that “Kona Coffee” will become a generic term for an undefined style of coffee, while the exquisite flavor of Pure Kona Coffee disappears.

Kona’s farmers encourage Slow Food supporters to also support us by buying only genuine Pure Kona Coffee. The best way to assure genuineness is to buy directly from farmers over the internet

And when you are next in Kona, please visit a Kona Coffee farm. For a list of farms giving tours, visit the website